Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sports Analysts-The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: ESPN Edition

I have reached the final part of my favorite/least favorite sports broadcasters list.  I've really been looking forward to this one because I have such mixed feelings about the mothership that is the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

ESPN has so ingrained itself in sports that it is impossible to talk about sports coverage and not bring up ESPN's greatness, like Michael Jackson with pop music or Ohio State with pizza deliveries.

On the surface, how can ESPN not be a good thing? 24 hours of non-stop sports coverage, from games to highlights, analysis to feel-good stories.  When it breaks news, it is always backed by good sources, which is saying something in our instant Twitter-news world (Rob Lowe anyone?).  There are also a number of talented analysts, especially on the, which still embraces some old school journalism (such as Grantland).

However, there is the evil side to constant sports coverage.  Over-saturation, over-analysis, causing the smallest issue get blown way out of proportion-these are all effects of a full time sports network.  This has led to things like LeBron's decision or Tebowmania.  At their base, they are probably good things, but they get talked about so much from so many different angles, fans get confused and angry.  Do people really hate Tim Tebow, or do they hate the media's version of Tim Tebow?

ESPN employs a ton of analysts, and each one wants to set themselves apart from one another.  This is a blessing and a curse.  On one hand, you get to listen to a variety of differing opinions and thoughts on your favorite sports and teams.  On the other, there are only so many points to cover, which leaves analysts stretching to put an original spin on a story.  But a story only has so many ways to look at it, and the analysts are left saying things just because they can.  Besides misinforming viewers, the analysts often say things without really thinking about them.  These things are often against ESPN's view, causing analysts to have to make forced public apologies.  These so-called apologies seem to have risen exponentially over the past decade.

We can't forget that ESPN is a major company-its main objective is to make money.  An article written by an IU sports journalist Jason Fry makes an excellent point:
"ESPN’s relationship with sports is like Google’s with search, or Microsoft’s with operating-system software a generation ago – the company will always be held to an impossible standard, yet is so important to its industry that doesn't feel unfair."
The Worldwide Leader in Sports holds huge power, and can wield it however they choose.  The avid sports fan must hope for, and even demand, that ESPN works to make its viewers more knowledgeable.  There is no escaping ESPN, but is there really is no desire to?  I myself can't imagine an ESPN-free world. I may complain about how overcoverage can kill the games, yet not a day goes by when I am not plugged in to ESPN or

With all that in mind, here is my list for my favorite and least favorite ESPN studio personalities.

ESPN Studio - The Best
  • Scott Van Pelt:  Van Pelt is easily the best SC anchor in Bristol.  Although he isn't on as frequently as he used to, he has his own radio show every afternoon.  Van Pelt is funny, original, and in-touch with the sports fan.  He works through the highlights intelligently and is an excellent and adaptable interviewer.  I love that he is able to drop references that make the diehard sports fan appreciate that Van Pelt knows what he's talking about.

  • Buster Olney: I don't think that there is a guy in the baseball world who is more "in the know" than  Robert Stanbury Olney III, other than the GM's themselves.  Buster is always the guy breaking news on free agent signings and trades in the MLB, even with the most minor of moves.  He also does a nice job analyzing what each team needs and the guys that can be traded on each team.

  • John Kruk: Kruk is a former major league first baseman and is the best Baseball Tonight analyst ESPN has.  He breaks down the game vary well and has a great understanding of how the common man watches baseball.  During his playing days, he was quoted as saying, "I ain’t an athlete, lady, I’m a baseball player."  He is a likeable guy who is easy to listen to, which is more than can be said for a majority of the Baseball Tonight guys (see Singleton, Chris)

Same time tomorrow, knuckleheads
  • Mike Wilbon/Tony Rieali: Pardon the Interruption is the best show on ESPN.  You get intelligent insight on number of leading stories, and usually get a different spin that what you would get elsewhere on ESPN.  Mike Wilbon is the better of the pair of him and Tony Kornheiser.  Both guys started (and still are) sports columnists, so they bring some original and clear thinking to their viewers.  Wilbon is likeable and has much less radical views than is partner, and backs up his points with sound reasoning.  He is also a Chicago boy, so I gotta love him for that.  Rieali, or Stat Boy, is also the host for Around the Horn.  As the host he does a great job of directing the conversation and asking pertinent follow-up questions, and does it all with some great humor.

  • John Buccigross:  I like him as a SC anchor, but Bucci's real strength is in his hockey analysis.   Maybe it's because he is American, but he is by far the most unbiased analyst for hockey, especially when compared to the Overrated Mullet, Barry Melrose.  The guy knows the game, as he used to host "NHL 2Night" in the long, long ago on ESPN.  He is another guy who is fantastic on Twitter (which is becoming a must for analysts these days), and does his famous Bucci's Overtime Challenge,  where he has followers send him a player from each team that will score the game-winning OT goal, and he will retweet those who got it right.  He is genuinely interested in promoting the game of hockey and getting everyone involved in discussing the sport.

ESPN Studio - The Worst
  • Stuart Scott: Stuart is a guy who I have never liked.  He is ESPN's attempt to attract a young, hip crowd, which I saw through even when I was younger.  You can't help but feel that he doesn't actually know anything about sports.  His phrases were fun for about 5 minutes, but they only hid his apparent lack of sports knowledge.  This is a huge problem when you work for a sports network.  What do I think of ESPN dumping Stuart Scott as an anchor? Boo-yah!

Rumblin', bumblin', stumblin'
  • NFL Countdown:  I couldn't single out a single one of these guys to put on this list.  Mike Ditka is the most manageable and clear cut, but that may just the Chicago in me talking.  But the rest are poor analysts and just unbearable at times. It's partially EPSN's fault.  I get that the NFL is by far the most popular league in the US, but 3 hours of "breakdown" every Sunday is a bit much, especially when there are enough guys babbling to make the Occupy Wall Street folks jealous.  Tom Jackson is too old for today's NFL and no longer offers useful analysis.  Keyshawn Johnson was a prima donna as a player, and though he is getting better, he says a lot of things that are either very obvious or way off mark.  Finally, there's Chris Berman.  Boomer is Dicky V part 2.   His bit was once fresh and exciting, and made watching highlights a lot of fun.  But now, I could really do without his "He-could-go-all-the-way's" during every highlight.  He has become a persona of himself, and its very annoying.  And don't get me started on how awful he is at calling anything to do with baseball.

  • Colin Cowherd: To put it nicely, Colin Cowherd is a tool.  For those that don't know, Cowherd hosts a mid-morning  radio show, "The Herd," on ESPN Radio.  His main purpose is to make people angry, or at least I hope that's his purpose.  If it isn't, he maybe be one of the dumbest people in sports. He says so many baseless things it would make your head spin,and often in hyperbole.  I'd like to think his purpose is to get people talking  about the issues in order to prove what an idiot Cowherd is.  The worst is that he says everything in an I'm-better-than-you way.  Here's an example of Colin's wisdom: "Who cares if Braylon Edwards drops passes? Drops are overrated."  I bet Colin thinks they are even more overrated in the endzone.  
This actually makes him look smarter
  • Skip Bayless:  ESPN certainly has a type.  Just like Cowherd, Skip's MO is to get people raging about every single topic in sports.  I can count on one hand the number of times he took the majority view on anything.  He says incendiary things without evidence to back them up (aka Shock Journalism).  Instead he tries using big words and insults (which he tries to mask as wit)  to prove his point, which anyone who has a pulse can see right through.  I suppose that it's honorable that he sticks to his point, but he takes it to a whole new level.  I think he is just looking for story that ends up working out like he says, just so he can say, "I told you so." This is a very bad strategy when every other side you take is completely wrong and indefensible.  Going 1 for 100 is really nothing to be proud of (unless you're Thomas Edison).
  • Stephen A. Smith:  Stephen A. is exactly like Skip Bayless, except he brings race into about everything.  Worse, he is often paired with Skip on First Take, and the two fight about everything.   Where Skip insults the opposing point, Smith just screams at it.  He thinks that the louder and more passionately he speaks, the more correct his point is.  The thing is, he point is rarely correct, and often just angers multiple groups of people.  I don't think there is a guy at ESPN who sticks his foot in his mouth more than Stephen A.   I like a guy to speak his mind and all, but not when it's racial charged and meant to be inflammatory. 

ESPN - Special mention
  • Erin Andrews: An incredibly attractive woman who is great at her job, which just happens to be in sports (btw, I'm totally ok with her knowing more about sports than me). Need I say more?

I'll just leave this right here

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sports Analysts-The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Mixed Bag Edition

My football and baseball lists are in the books.  I hope I effectively imparted on you all just how much I hate Tim McCarver and what a travesty it is that he is still employed as an professional MLB analyst.  I also didn't hear any Sox fans stick up for their man Hawk Harrelson, so I will just conclude that I was 100% on the mark.

This post is my mixed bag of broadcasters, which covers college basketball and the NHL. I don't watch a great enough variety of these sports to have a favorites list.  There are names, though, that I want to mention because there is one in college b-ball commentator that is probably my favorite in all of sports.  I'll admit these lists are shorter than my football an baseball lists, but this isn't for lack of effort.  I haven't had a lot of

I'll also cover some Chicago sports broadcasters, most notably those that are part of sports talk radio shows on the Chicago dials.  Many of my readers aren't from Chicago and many from Chicago don't listen to the joy of sports talk, but I want to discuss them because I've spent so much time tuned into these stations.

NCAA Basketball - The Best
What a game! HA HA!
  • Gus Johnson: Gus, in my opinion, is the best announcer in the sporting world today.  No one brings more excitement to a call and no one enthralls his audience better than him.  Some people complain that he is too much for the broadcast, but I completely disagree.  Gus' enthusiasm is genuine, which is more than can be said for many other announcers.  You can see that Gus loves his job and he loves sports. His talent has spread across multiple sports, but college basketball has always been his best, especially the March Madness tournament.  The Gus Johnson factor is at play every time he is in the booth-games that he calls are much more likely to go down to the wire or head to OT.  He is the one guy who I would tune into watch just because he is on the call.  If you haven't really listened to him before, watch/listen to this clip, and then enjoy many more on YouTube (such as this hilarious mashup).
  • Jay Bilas: Bilas is one of the smartest men in the sport.  As a former college basketball player (4-year starter at Duke), he brings great insight into his analysis.  He can break things down for the casual fan, but provides lots of depth for even the most crazed college fan.  He has talent both in the studio and as a color man.  You can also tell he prepares for his games well.  He doesn't just speak about the best players, but has analysis for everyone on the team.  He also has some of the best tweets, so follow him if you are on Twitter
NCAA Basketball - The Worst
  • Dick Vitale:  15 years ago, I never would have considered putting Dicky V on the "worst" list for college basketball.  I used to love all his phrases and his childlike enthusiasm for the game.  However, that hasn't changed, and now that I listen to a color commentator for analysis, his shtick has gotten very old.  His Duke-UNC bias can border on the unbearable and he spends so much time on his catch phrases that he never really gets to any useful break downs.  "That's awesome, baby!" and "Get a T.O.!"  have lost their magic.  Vitale is an guy who was once great and fresh, but now he comes off as someone's goofy grandpa.  
I'm overkill, baby!

NHL - The Best
  • Mike "Doc" Emrick and Eddie Olczyk:  I'll pair these two since they are NBC Sports #1 team for its NHL broadcasts.  Doc was normally the play-by-play for the New Jersey Devils (until last summer) and Eddie O is the color guy for my Chicago Blackhawks.  Doc's call is great, adjusting to the tempo of the game while keeping an (mostly) unbiased view.  I love his goal call (ScccOOORReeesss!).  What's best is that he compliments the game well.  He understands what needs to be called and clarified, and does so without interrupting the rhythm of the game.  
"He didn't keep his stick on the ice there, Doc"
Eddie O is a former player who was never spectacular, but has done a great job breaking down the best in the booth.  He spots what happened before anyone has a chance to check out the instant replay.  What I like best is that he talks about and shows what the players do right and wrong.  He commonly uses the phrase, "For all you young hockey players out there," using the play of the best in the world to instruct the up and coming talent of the hockey world

NHL - The Worst

  • Matthew Barnaby: ESPN should be embarrassed that they every employed Barnaby as one of its lead analysts.  They recently let him go, but only after a DWI forced their hand.  The guy was a goon when he played whose only purpose on the ice was to headhunt the other teams' stars and take them down with some serious cheap shots.  He had no idea how to break down plays and frequently praised big/illegal hits as necessary play in the NHL.  I have no reason to listen to analysis of the NHL's best from a guy who spent his whole playing career yapping his mouth with no skill to back it up.

Chicago Sports Talk - The Best

This is how I imagine them looking
when taking 3/4 of the calls on the show
  • Dan Bernstein: Like Dicky V, I thought very differently about Bernstein 10 years ago.  He seemed to spend the entire time making eloquent jokes and demoralizing callers.  But as a listened more, I came to realize that he is probably one of the smartest guys in Chicago sports.  He never says anything without having sound reasoning to back it up.   Even if I disagree with his view, I know exactly where he is coming from.  His tweets and comments indicate that he has a good to great understanding of major sports.  He also demands a high level of intelligence from the callers to his radio show, Boers and Bernstein, which is refreshing in this ESPN-era of sport.  Fans often call with baseless claims and opinions, which he immediately sees through (which makes him seem like a total jerk).  Dan simply asks that you have a way to back up what you say with some sort of common sense. Though I'm not a fan of Terry Boers, he is my favorite talk show host in Chicago, and I hope that Chicago fans can learn from his methods, especially in this generalizing, throw-it-and-if-it-sticks-keep-it world we live in.
  • Matt Spiegel:  After being a behind the scenes producer for the Score and hosting a nationally syndicated sports radio show, Spiegel rejoined 670 alongside Dan McNeil.  The reason I like him is that he makes listening to McNeil manageable.  Mac, as you will see below, spends his time trying to demonstrate how experienced he is, but never actually proves he knows anything.  Matt actually has a great historical knowledge of sports.  Also, unlike McNeil, he is actually funny.  Spiegel is one of the reasons why 670 the Score is much better than ESPN 1000 in the realm of Chicago sports talk.

Chicago Sports Talk - The Worst

  • Dan McNeil:  Mac has his fingerprints all over the Chicago sports talk radio scene.  When I first heard him, he was on ESPN Radio 1000 on the show "Mac, Jurko, and Harry."  It started out as my favorite show, but as time passed and I gained sports knowledge, I realized that they never really said anything useful.  Harry was a former comedian, and I'll get to Jurko later.  In the end, he came of as a major jerk, and worse, a jerk that was hypocritical.  He didn't actually prove a caller or a co-host wrong, but would insult them as a means of shutting them up.  Mac was let go by ESPN after multiple on-air fights with Harry and was taken back by 670 the Score, where he started his broadcasting career.  He's become somewhat less of a jerk, but still flaps his head without any meaning.  He is also a Sox fan, so he can't really be trusted, can he?
  • John Jurkovic: Jurko is the loveable idiot of the "Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000.  He is a former NFL defensive lineman who grew up in the Chicagoland area.  He is another man who says nothing of value, but just tries to be funny in the Homer Simpson sort of way- he is not smart and he knows it. His personality was funny at first, but now it is just annoying.  He actually reminds me a lot of Mike Golic of "Mike and Mike in the Morning."  He just says really general things that anyone can figure out, but they are somehow masked as intelligent talk because he used to be in the NFL.  As I said with McNeil, "Mac, Jurko, and Harry" was once my favorite show which I listened to every day, much to the chagrin of the people I drove home from high school.  However, as my desire to grow my sports knowledge and acumen, I liked the show less and less.  Jurko's mindless banter had a lot to do with that.
My final list will cover the mothership, ESPN.  I hope you are enjoying reading these lists as I have had writing them.  Leave some feedback via the comments or Facebook (or any social media really [or by owl if you are a wizard]) and we can compare our respective lists.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sports Analysts-The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Baseball Edition

Now that I have hopefully cleared the air and calmed my Blackhawk fan readers, I can get back to my favorite and hated sports broadcasters.  Maybe some of you agreed with my choices for the football world, or maybe some of you are part of Craig James' campaign team for Texan senator.  Either way, make sure to leave your opinion in the comments section.  I'd really love to get a good back and forth going with you kids, since I know you are knowledgeable sports fans.

I'll move onto the world of baseball. This is my favorite sport and involves my favorite team.  Baseball is the only sport I was ever respectable in playing-wise, and even that is debatable.  I did, however, pick up quite a bit of baseball acumen over the years of playing and watching the sport.  Because of this, I hold baseball analysts to the highest standard, since I know exactly when they are spewing B.S.

To be fair, you may spot some Cubs bias in my analysis. But this is my list, so I get to be biased.  I'd like to think that my hometown announcers are as good as a think, so you'll just have to tell me if I'm way off base.

MLB - The Best
Pat and Ron were the perfect pair for
the Cubs
  • Pat Hughes: To me, this is the voice of baseball.  Pat is the WGN radio play-by-play man for the Cubs, and one of the top broadcasters in the game.  He has an uncanny ability to paint a clear picture of what is happening and brings the perfect amount of excitement to the game without going over the top.    He also had the task of babysitting working alongside late Cubs legend Ron Santo.  Ron was basically the biggest Cubs fan watching the game, and he just happened to be mic'ed.  Pat did a great job of setting Ron up for some analysis or another one of Ron's stories.  I rarely say it is a joy to listen to someone call a game, but with Pat Hughes it truly is.
  • Steve Stone: Stone is probably knows the most about Chicago baseball than any other analyst. Not only did he pitch for both the Cubs and the White Sox in the 1970's, but he has spent the past 29 years in the booth for one of the Windy City's teams.  He does an incredible job of predicting plays before they happen, using a deep understanding of baseball strategy to explain his predictions.  He also isn't afraid to criticize mistakes made by the team, which actually got him fired from the Cubs booth in 2004.  He made this extremely accurate statement that year, which ultimately led to his dismissal- "The truth of this situation is [this is] an extremely talented bunch of guys who want to look at all directions except where they should really look, and kind of make excuses for what happened."  He joined the Sox booth in 2007, which makes the games somewhat bearable to listen to.
  • Vin Scully: The legendary Dodgers radio man truly deserves his place among the baseball immortals.   He is now 84 years old and has been calling games for 62 (!) years, starting back when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.  Not only has he called the games for 6 decades, but calls the games by himself, using his skill as an analyst to breakdown the play as he calls it.  He is well known for getting to games 3 hours before game time to prepare. I have gotten MLB Radio for the past few seasons and sometimes I will tune in to his broadcasts just to listen to a master at work.  
  • Bob Brenley: Brenley is one of the most underrated color guys in the league.  The former Diamondbacks manager has developed quite a rapport with Len Kasper, and the two are probably the best booth in any of the Chicago sports.  Like Steve Stone, Brenley has great insight on the game, especially since he played catcher in the bigs.  He balances his praise and criticism very well, and is not afraid to admit a mistake.  He actually has been my top choice to be the Cubs manager since Lou Piniella stepped down.  He has shown in the booth that he knows baseball well, and more importantly, he understands what it would take for the Cubs to win it all.
    "Juuuust a bit outside"
  • Bob Uecker: Uecker is probably best known for his work in Major League, when he played announcer Harry Doyle and delivered some memorable lines that are still quoted today.  You may not know that he has been the Milwaukee Brewers radio play-by-play since 1978 and that he is just as hilarious in the booth as he was on-screen.  He keeps his calls light, but doesn't let his joking take away from the game.  He has plenty of great self-deprecating quotes about his time as a player, but this is one of my favorites- "The highlight of my career? In ’67 with St. Louis, I walked with the bases loaded to drive in the winning run in an intersquad game in spring training."

MLB - The Worst
  • Tim McCarver:  This is actually the guy who inspired this post.  It really is a shame that he is still involved with baseball, especially as the color man for Fox's so-called #1 MLB broadcast team alongside Captain Monotone, Joe Buck.  More people spend the World Series discussing how awful it is to listen to McCarver than the teams actually playing.  Fox should be embarrassed that they put this moron on the national stage every week and during the World Series. I can point to so many stupid calls by Tim over the years, but here is one that I caught while during the 2011 All-Star game.
Buck: "Where does Scott Rolen rank all-time as a defensive 3rd baseman?"
McCarver: "Well he's a great baserunner."
I can haz competent analyzt?
That is just the perfect excerpt from McCarver.  He often has no idea what is actually happening in the game, spending his time talking about what he thinks is correct.  He is almost never on mark, and I fear for the casual baseball fan who thinks that listening to him is making them more baseball savvy.  I know it has become the cool thing to hate on McCarver, but it is the most deserved hate all of sports.  I can say that in the history of my involvement in sports, he is the worst broadcaster I have ever heard. 
  • Joe Morgan: Thankfully, Joe Morgan is no longer on the air after being let go from Sunday Night Baseball in 2010.  I think what I hated most about Morgan is that he carried over his playing career into the booth (not that I was alive to see it).  He really was a great second baseman and was large cog in the Big Red Machine. However, he spent all his time reminding us of it, trying to prove how much he knew about baseball. Instead, he spent a ton of time arguing with Jon Miller over insignificant things and often times came off as a big time jerk.  He was usually unprepared for games, which caused him to either get things wrong or say very obvious things, such as, "He thought that pitch was outside...that's why he didn't swing".  Thanks Joe. Now you bring up why baseball was much better when you were a player.
  • John Sterling: Sterling is the radio play-by-play guy for the MLB's flagship franchise, the New York Yankees.  He is a prime example of an announcer who may have been good at one time, but now gets by on gimmicks and catchphrases.  You'll see more of this in later posts when I get to ESPN.  He gets so excited to use phrases he is well known for that he misses what is happening in the game, and instead comes off as arrogant.  I have spent very little time actually listening to his broadcasts, but each time I do it is painful.  He is at his most annoying point at the end of the game if the Yankees win.  If you have never heard it, take a listen below and tell me you don't hate the Yanks more than you already did.

  • Hawk Harrelson/Ed Farmer:  Ah, yes.  You didn't think a White Sox broadcaster or 2 would escape my most hated list, did you? I'll start with the Hawk.  This man is easily the biggest homer for the team he calls in all of baseball.  While I support letting you allegiance for a team leak into the call, Harrelson  takes it too far.  He often misses plays because he is spewing his feeling on the Sox play all over the place. Like Sterling, he relies on mannerisms to cover up his poor ability to describe what is happening on the field (aka do his job).  His "He Gone" and "Stretch!" calls are plain obnoxious.  I will say that I do like one of his catchphrases- "You can put it on the board, Yes!"- which my dad uses during Indians games on many occasions.  Ed Farmer is the Sox radio man and is the opposite of Hawk.  He has absolutely zero emotion and sucks all the energy out of his broadcasts.  It's hard to tell who is winning when he is calling the game, and he makes you not want to listen because he makes you sad, even if your team is winning.
That takes care of my baseball list.  Did I miss anyone?  Do you completely disagree? Leave your thoughts here.  (Disclaimer: White Sox fans will never win an argument against me concerning the Hawk-he blows).

Next list to come will be my mixed bag, which covers NCAA b-ball, the NHL, and Chicago analysts.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rational Blackhawks Thoughts: Beating Down the Meatheads

Alright, I need to interrupt my list of my most loved and hated sports broadcasters so that I can return to the Blackhawks.  The Hawks are in the midst of a 5 game skid, including tonight's 3-1 loss to Calgary.  The bigger news was the 8-4 thumping the took at the hands of the lowly Edmonton Oilers, which comes just 2 and a half months after a 9-2 beatdown from the Oilers.  Since I am in Seattle, I haven't been able to actually watch these games, which means I usually follow the progress on Twitter and some live blogs.

It was the response on Twitter that prompts this response from me.  While a 8-4 loss is embarrassing, it is certainly not the end of the world.   This is not what the majority of the Hawks fans and bloggers that I follow thought.  I saw such tweets as:

After reading those, I was more embarrassed to be a Hawks fan than I was in the team.  It was this one that really got me in the end:

So, the Blackhawks are struggling right now.  I guess that means it's time to blow up the whole team and start over.  I mean, really, this team is full of total crap.  No one on the team is in Hart trophy consideration at age 23.  No one has won the Norris in the past 2 years.  And the core certainly didn't win a Stanley Cup 2 years ago.

What's that?  Oh, those are all actually true?  Silly me.  Oh, there's more?  Wait, this team is just 6 points out of  FIRST PLACE FOR THE FREAKING WESTERN CONFERENCE?  This last point makes this suggestion from a Hawks fan totally ridiculous:
"I base a lot of what you said [on a very negative Hawks blog post suggesting they need to 'climb out of hell'] on the decision to encourage the Hawks to become SELLERS and not buyers."
I think what Blackhawks fans (can I call them fans right now) forget is that the NHL has a hard salary cap that is set at $64 million.  The Hawks managed to win the Cup with a lot of youth (which equals cheap) and bunch of role players that were great value.  Some of these players, like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, have gotten considerable raises since leaving the Hawks.  The cap also explains the trade of Brian Campbell in the offseason.  That's why that last tweet made me so made.  The Hawks can make as much money through tickets as they want-only $64 million can go back into the team.

The core of this team is one of the best in the league and, even better, it's young.  Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith have yet to reach the prime ages on their careers.  Patrick Sharp is in the middle of his, and Marian Hossa is still a force to be reckoned with.  Years of poor play and losing all the players they have in the past 2 years has left the farm system stockpiled with talent.  Stan Bowman built this team to win with speed and solid defensive play.  The latter is struggling right now, but a trade for a 2nd pair d-man can fix that.  We can't expect them to go out and be super physical, or have our goalie steal multiple games for us.  It's just not how the team was built.

Then there is the insane call for trades.  I saw multiple suggestions that Patrick Kane should be traded.  Really?  Kane is probably the most talented Hawk we will see for the next decade, and you want to trade him off because he is in the middle of a scoring drought?  Can no one make mistakes?  My favorite Hawks blog, Second City Hockey, puts it best:
"Not every play that happens during a game warrants yet another trade suggestion. This is getting ridiculous. It seems like with any turnover, that guy's gotta go for this guy. Good god. It is most likely that the guy the Hawks bring in to shore up the defense will not be a name that will set your balls on fire." 
This is not football, Chicago.  Bears fans have a tendency to overreact to every little thing, especially a poor performance.  This is somewhat understandable, since it is a Bears town and their are only 16 games in the regular season.  Hockey is an 82 game season, and more than half the teams from each conference make the playoffs.  As we saw from Philadelphia's run in 2010, all you need to do in the NHL is get in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  It's okay for a guy, even a star, to have an off night.

If I do have an issue with this team, it's in Joel Quenneville's coaching decisions.  I think he is too quick to change up lines in-game, and chooses to play John Scott on a frequent basis.  Somehow, guys get in his doghouse for reasons that are not apparent to the fans.  But the man won a Stanley Cup 2 years ago, so I will trust him to get it done in the stretch.
"The distance between them and another Stanley Cup is deceptively far, despite what anyone tells you."
Is that right? Well, let me tell you differently.  This team is a Stanley Cup contender. They have played the top teams in the West close all season, often coming out on top.  While the goaltending doesn't blow you away, it can be solid when the team puts the effort in on defense.  You also need to expect mistakes when you play a 20 year-old defensemen, but as I said, we can trade for one of those.

In the end, I want Hawks fans to know that it's going to be okay.  There is no reason to mortgage the great future we have in the minors for aging goalie like Tim Thomas or Ryan Miller. The bi-polarity of Chicago's fanbase is unreal.  I'm sure if the Hawks win 2 games by 3 goals, they'll all be talking about a Stanley Cup sweep.  We have a core and a plan in place.  Unless we see some major meltdown that includes multiple 5 game losing streaks, you are looking at a playoff team.  Hockey is a game of who's hot, who's not.  I encourage rational Blackhawks fans to ignore the meatheads and make your own conclusions on this team.

Let's go Hawks.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sports Analysts-The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Football Edition

I will admit that I listen to an insane amount of sports talk. While I am in Chicago, my friends and family will tell you that my car radio is always dialed to 670 The Score. I love talking sports, I love listening to sports, I love listening to people talking about sports. Over the years, I've grown accustomed to certain voices calling and analyzing the games I love, and as I've gotten older, I've grown to respect these voices that I grew up with.  There are also those that I just can't stand, those that I actually argue with even though they can't even hear me. In high school, my mom would actually have to mute the TV because she couldn't listen to me yell at the mindless banter that was coming out of these so-called sports experts.

I find myself quite often talking with my good friend Andrew Seid at length about a wide variety of sports topics. Besides my dad, he is my favorite person to talk sports with, and it's amazing how many times we agree on things. Some readers maybe remember that Andrew and I did sports talk radio together for WBCN at Michigan.  A common theme of our conversation is providing each other lists of our favorite (or least favorite) things and constantly trying to one up each other.

So, lets put these last 2 things together. I am going to give you my favorite and least favorite sports announcers and analysts. I'll break it down by sport, and then give ESPN its own category (there is a lot more hate toward ESPN than love). I know there are plenty of lists like this out there, but obviously not from me, and I know how much you want to know my love/hate list, since many of you have had the pleasure (or misfortune) of watching a game with me.  Since there are so many on my list, I will break this into a couple of separate posts. This will let you all have a few days worth of procrastination via reading.

NFL/NCAA Football - Best
  • Kirk Herbstreit: This may seem like an odd choice coming from a Michigan fan, but the former tOSU quarterback has an excellent feel for college football. It may be hard to forgive him for the whole Les Miles fiasco, but in the end he may have done us a favor. He does a good job of explaining the game, but doesn't talk down or get excited about menial things. Also, his reaction to Lee Corso's F-bomb was priceless. (PS-Mute the video if swearing upsets you)
  • Troy Aikman:  One of the smartest QB's ever to play the game is now one of its smartest color guys. He brings great insight into the game and breaks down what players are looking to do on each play, even with the boring play call of Joe Buck.  Some accuse him of being a homer for his former team, the Cowboys, but I don't see it.  I think it's just because everyone hates the Cowboys.
  • Verne Lundquist/Gary Danielson:  This is the best duo calling a college football game.  There SEC love does get a little old, but it is the best conference in the NCAA.  Verne has a smooth delivery and sets Danielson up well, plus has an outstanding laugh that puts a smile on your face.  Gary has the uncanny ability to spot something in real time before everyone else does during instant replay, and can break it down very well. 
  • Al Michaels:  I saved my favorite for last.  Al is one of the greatest play-by-play men of my life, and I'm sure many would agree it extends beyond this.  He has a magical ability to keep you engrossed in the game, and has a plethora of stories to share.  Of course, his greatest moment wasn't even calling a football game, but the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  Of course, I wasn't alive for this, but of all the sporting moments I would want to live, the USA's victory would be it (yes, I'd take it over the 1908 Cubs World Series).  His call, "Do you believe in miracles? YES!", gives me chills to this day, and I wasn't even there to live it. 
NFL/NCAA Football - Worst
  • Jon Gruden: While he well-liked by many others, I'm going to go hipster here and share my dislike of the former coach.  My problem with him is that he makes everything vanilla.  Every player he see's is the latest and greatest, which he shares with a " Now this guy here, boy."  Guys do things wrong, Jon, and a guy like  John Beck is not the next Hall of Famer.  
  • Ron Jaworski: Let's move to Gruden's MNF partner, who is lovingly referred to as Jaws. There is just a way he talks, they way he inflects his tones, that makes me feel like like he is talking down to me.  He was probably once skilled as an analyst, but these days it seems like he gets in analyzing matches with Gruden (and the other ESPN NFL guys). He tries to break down every single thing, but instead states points that are obvious even to casual fans. 
  • Tom Hammond:  I may be biased here, since he is the Notre Dame play-by-play man, but I simply cannot listen to him call a game.  He is a huge ND homer, but that isn't the problem, since NBC is basically the Irish's own network.  My problem is that he spends the entire time bending over backward for ND instead of calling the game.  This causes him to mess up multiple times during the game, which is a problem on TV when everyone can see what is happening.
    You're welcome for the nightmares you will now have
    due to this picture
  • Craig James: What more can you say about a guy who was part of the SMU shenanigans that got them the death penalty?  James spews some serious ignorance when analyzing college football.  He gets caught up in his own misstatements, and then tries to defend them using zero common sense instead of realizing he was wrong.  He also was responsible for getting Mike Leach fired from Texas Tech when he completely falsified reports that Leach was mistreating James' son.  The site Awful Announcing says it best-"James represents the idea of using power and privilege to corrupt and mislead."
  • Mike Patrick/Joe Theismann/Paul Maguire: Thankfully, this former Sunday Night Football crew is no longer on the air.  When they were, however, my least favorite booth when they actually were calling games.  Theismann and Maguire would focus on one meaningless or completely wrong topic for the whole broadcast, never providing any real analysis on what was actually happening on the field.  The Texans inaugural game comes to mind, when Joe and Paul spent the whole time gushing about David Carr and what a promising career he would have (we know how that turned out).  Patrick wasn't awful, but his play-by-play got dragged down the the crappy commentary, and he wasn't good enough to save us from the idiocy happening next to him.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Blackhawks and the NHL at the All-Star Break: Blackhawks Not So Down

Slovak power!
As I sit here watching Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (and Emma Watson), I have been hit with the writing bug.  I’ve put my mind out of football mode after the Bears season ended in shambles and Michigan brought a very successful season to a close.  I have little desire to start previewing what will be a disappointing season (make that seasons) for the baseball teams of Chicago. The Bulls are rocking without a true big man and the Michigan men are pulling off a number of 2 point victories and losses.  While all those things will be covered in due time, I will discuss the Blackhawks, now that we have reached the All-Star break.  Hopefully you checked out the fantasy draft on Thursday (and tracked to see how Andrew and I picked).  You should watch the skills competition Saturday as well, with Marian Hossa (Fastest Skater, Accuracy Shooting) and Patrick “that blond is unbelievable” Kane (Breakaway Challenge, Skills Relay, Shootout) representing Chicago [EDIT: Since I took too long to post this, the skills challenge is over.  SuperKaner won the Breakaway Challenge, but his team lost the competition].   The Blackhawks also made a trade with the Calgary Flames, acquiring Brendan Morrison, a center and a Michigan hockey great.

The break gives us a chance to look back on what the 2011-2012 season has brought us, as well as what is to come, with trades and the playoffs.  I first want to grade each line and defensive pairing, as well as the goalies and coaches.  I’ll go into what the Hawks need to make a playoff push, and then revised picks for how the conferences will shake out.  Hopefully, I will give Hawks fans some confidence.  I say this because the Bears train of thought (“OMG A LOSS WE’RE HAVING A FIRE SALE”) has crept into the Blackhawks fan base.  It was only a matter of time, given the Hawks recent success and the town’s desire for a winner.  However, when I am browsing Twitter and am seeing suggestions that Kane needs to be traded, everyone needs to take a step back and take a deep breath. The hockey season is long and no team will win every game, and no player can be on every single night.  Yes, this team needs some improvements, but so does every team, especially in the salary cap world we now find ourselves in.  So now that we have stepped off the ledge and taken the noose off our neck, let’s grade Chicago’s hockey team.

Here’s what I said in the preseason about the Blackhawks:
"I expect a middling record while coach Joel Quenneville figures out the lines and how all the new pieces will fit together. Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa look like they will absolutely dominate this year as long as the latter stays on the ice. They should be able carry the team until my boy Jonathan Toews ends his yearly October funk and does what he is capable of. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook should soon find themselves on the blue line together again, heading up a deep defensive corps and a goalie looking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. The Hawks also added a lot more grit to the team this year, which will hopefully help them be strong down the stretch."
For once, a prediction I made actually was halfway decent.  Quenneville has been line juggling all season, which is something he is well known for.  Bother Kane and Hossa started off the season as red hot linemates, though the former has cooled off considerably.  Toews didn’t even have to wait until October to begin his dominating ways and is in the conversation for the Hart Trophy (the MVP for all you non-Hockey folk).  Keith and Seabrook have been a pair for most of the year, while Crawford has had an average season that has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride.  With that in mind, here are my grades for each line, the defensive pairing, the goalies, and the coaches.  I will use the lines that will most likely be used for the rest of the season."

Midseason Grades

Patrick Kane – Jonathan Toews – Victor Stalberg  A: This has truly been the top line for Quenneville, and would get an A+ if not for Kane’s disappointing stretch.  As mentioned before, Toews is having a Hart-caliber season, leading the team in goals with 27, killing opponents on the face-off dot, and being the true leader this team needs by being the hardest worker night in, night out.   His is the reason this line gets the highest mark on the team. Stalberg has been a pleasant surprise and has almost made us forget about Kris Versteeg.  Stalberg has outstanding speed that he is using wisely and seemed to find a nose for the net that he has lacked in the past. Kaner, on the other hand, has been on a rough patch since around November, disappearing from both ends of the ice for long stretches.  Yes he has 41 points, good for third on the team, but we know he can be so much more.  When he wants to, he has the talent to take the game over.  He has some of the quickest hands in the league and we have seen the stretches where he goes into what some term as “F*** You Mode.”  This is the line that will need to stay healthy if the Hawks want a shot at the Cup.

Marian Hossa – Marcus Kruger – Patrick Sharp A-:  The Hawks have the privilege of rolling 2 lines that could be the top of many teams in the NHL.  Hossa definitely deserves his All-Star selection, leading the team in points and +/-.  Like Kane, he has the size and skill to just take over a game.  I love watching him cycle strong with the puck before holding a guy off with one hand and getting a good shot on goal.  He is also a force on the power play and penalty kill.  Kruger has far outplayed expectations, providing a nice centerman skill set through his defense and ability on the dot.  As long as his brains don’t get scrambled again, he could be the second line center for the rest of the year, but his size may work against him there.  Sharp has been his usual self before going down with a wrist injury. His spotty defensive play has been discouraging since it used to be a strong point, but as long as he scores at his pre-injury pace, he will be welcome on this line.

Andrew Shaw puts Peggy on hold. #ShawFacts
Michael Frolik – Dave Bolland – Andrew Shaw/Jimmy Hayes C+: When Chicago won the Cup in 2010, it was because of the stellar play of the third line.  Both Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg are on the top lines of their respective teams.  The success of this line, though, will always draw it’s strength from Dave Bolland.  Despite struggling to score and win faceoffs consistently, Bolland has the ability to hang with an opponent’s top line.  However, Bolland has been the only good thing on this line.  Frolik has been very disappointing.  He can’t find the back of the net to save his life, with 5 goals in 40+ games.   This would be less of a problem if he offered help in his own zone, but he looks lost on defense.  Bryan Bickell started on this line, but has found himself scratched in recent games, most likely for his inability to effectively use his large frame.  The kids Shaw and Hayes have looked very good for rookies, with Shaw becoming a cult hero with 6 points in 8 games and some nice play on defense. Hayes has also played well, and I believe he will be a nice player in the years to come. He is a big body with good hands.  If he can develop a shot, I think he can be that big presence the Hawks want alongside Kane and Toews.  For this season, he could stick on this line, and right now is a better option than Bickell.

Jamal Myers – Brendan Morrison – Andrew Brunette B-:  The highest grade I would ever give a fourth line is a B, so this is a pretty high evaluation for them.   Myers has been exactly what we expected, a guy who will throw his body around and get in a few scraps.  He was centering this line, but that job now goes the newly acquired Morrison, who gives the Hawks depth at a much need position.  He is an injury risk, but is a veteran presence that will remind fans of John Madden (another Michigan guy!)  with his faceoff prowess and ability to chip in on offense.  Brunette has been solid, though a bit of a letdown. Everyone predicted he would be a top-6 guy, but hasn’t shown he can keep up with the top line.  I do like what he brings to the PP with his ability to camp out in front of the net.   I suppose I should mention Dan Carcillo here, which was a signing I hated from the start.  He had a nice first 10 games, and then went on to show why no one likes him.  I never like to see players injured, but I am glad to see him off this team.   In the end, this is one of the better 4th lines out there, and gets the job done for the Hawks.

Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook B+: The top D pairing for the Blackhawks has been solid and by far the most trustworthy for Chicago. Keith and Seabrook provide the best +/- combo on the blue line and are often called to shut down the other team’s top talent.  Seabrook is my favorite defensemen on this team, since he uses his size wisely and has a heavy show that is underused on the power play.  Keith has improved over his performance last season, where he would try blind or long breakout passes at the worst time, but he still isn’t quite at his 2010 Norris-caliber level.  He has done a nice job contributing on offense, with 24 helpers.  My concern continues to be this pair’s TOI (time on ice), which Quenneville pushes into the 26 minutes mark on a nightly basis, which is thankfully less than the last 2 years.  The pair will be relied on heavily for a deep playoff push, and it would be nice if they are not completely burned out by season’s end.

Nick Leddy – Nicklas Hjalmarsson C-: This is the line that caused the most concern going into the season.  Although the Brian Campbell trade will definitely help in the seasons to come, it did leave a void on the blue line.  Campbell had the team’s top +/- last year, and his ability to bring the puck up the ice was a huge benefit to how the Hawks want to play their game.  20 year-old Nick Leddy was pegged to fill that role after playing for most of last season.  He has actually done a good job with respect to his experience level and has shown he can be that offensive defensemen the Hawks need.  However, he is simply being asked to do too much and often times looks totally overmatched in his own end. It doesn’t help that his partner Nicklas Hjalmmersson has totally forgotten why the Hawks chose to resign him over Antti Niemi. I don’t mind that the Swede doesn’t show up on the stat sheets, but his defensive play can be perplexing and leaves fans wondering what happened to that fine young talent that helped win the Stanley Cup.  Hjalmersson needs to step up his game, because the Hawks can’t ask Leddy to do more than he is right now.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Hawks trade for a d-man, but I would hate to see it impact the Hawks puck-possession style.

Steve Montador – Sean O’Donnell C:  I was confident about this pair going in, given their experience and skill sets.  Yes, they’re slow as hell and sometimes make bone-headed plays, but that is the life of a NHL 3rd pair d-man.  I honestly think this pair could be better if Coach Q trusted them a little more.  They rarely break the 15 minute mark for TOI, which is not good for a defensive pairing.  The attention lapses are unfortunate, but again, third pair.  Montador has actually settled in nicely on the second PP unit.  I just ask that these 2 (or whoever finds themselves on this line) keep up what they have beendoing.

Corey Crawford & Ray Emery B-: Goalie is one of the most interesting positions in sports, and is even more bizarre in the Madhouse on Madison.  Rookie Neimi rose to win the Cup, but was not kept in the great salary purge of 2010.  I called the move a great choice and still hold by that.  The Hawks chose to build their team through defense, not goaltenders, which I really like. Yes, a goalie can get hot and carry a team to the Cup Finals on his shoulders (see Roy, Patrick or Thomas, Tim).  But goalies are streaky, while defenses can be far more consistent.  Just look at the Red Wings.  They won multiple Cups with lesser goalies (with the exception of Dominik Hasek).  So the Hawks brought up Corey Crawford, who had a great rookie season and nearly willed the Hawks past the Canucks in the playoffs.  This season, however, he has fought the puck and was pulled for backup Ray Emery for a stretch in December.  Chicago is the only team in the NHL not to post a shutout.  I think Crawford is the man going forward and that this is just part of the sophomore slump.  At this point, they aren’t going to acquire another goalie before the playoffs as there are more pressing matters to take care of. Crawford has shown he can be the guy, and Emery has proven to be a capable backup.  The lower grade for the goalies reflects the inconsistency of the defense (which is not good, because that is how this team is built).

Bow before its glory
Joel Quenneville B: It’s hard to grade a man with such a glorious mustache anything lower than an A++, but that is what I am doing.  The Hawks PK has been at the bottom of the league all season, and poor special teams play is usually a reflection of the coaching.  A lot of the things he does that I don’t like are things he has done his whole career, so that isn’t going to change. He is very quick to change up lines when the Hawks are down, which I really don’t like.  He also has a habit of putting guys in his dog house for no apparent reason.  Last season, it was Stalberg.  This season, it’s Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto.  These decisions mean more TOI for Chicago’s top players and goalies, which leads to a tired team when things really matter. 

What the Hawks Need

I think that I have highlighted what the Blackhawks need in the grades.  They need a top-6 type player, preferably a center, that can provide depth for injuries and some secondary scoring.   They also need a second pair defenseman who will bolster the Hawks poor PK and high shots against totals.  Unlike the past 2 years, they have about $4.8 million in cap space to add some pieces.  They also have a deep pool of prospects to deal away.  We obviously don't want to be mortgaging the future, especially with the hard cap, but there are some desirable guys on teams that are already out of the running.  Here are a few that I like.

  • Saku Koivu, Anaheim C - The Ducks have an awful record and are looking to get younger.  The Hawks could send a higher level prospect and a draft pick to get a guy who can be that 2nd line center and can help in all aspects of the game.
  • Bryan Allen, Carolina D - The Canes are also looking to dump salary, and this physical d-man would look real nice roughing up opposing players.
  • Tim Gleason, Carolina D - He wouldn't provide the presence of Allen, but he is a shutdown cover guy,  which the Hawks could use to clean up Leddy's screw ups.
  • Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina C - Yea, the Canes are bad and have lots of money locked up in just a few players.  Ruutu is a former Hawk that can be physical without being stupid, and can also play wing if needed.
  • Ladislav Smid, Edmonton D - This is a guy who GM Stan Bowman had his eye on. He has a big body, and uses it well, blocking lots of shots and getting in plenty of hits.  Like Koivu, he may cost a little more, but is a nice option for what the Hawks need.

Stanley Cup Playoff Prediction
"That's why my 2012 Stanley Cup Final prediction is the Tampa Lightning over the San Jose Sharks in 7."
And there goes my predicting ability, right back to where I thought it was to begin with.  While the Sharks are looking good in the West, the Lightning have a losing record.  Despite Steven Stamkos leading the league in goals, Tampa Bay has struggled mightily in their own zone, sporting a -29 goal differential.  They still have a chance to get back in it, as I believe Florida and Winnipeg's first half success won't last as the playoffs approach.

I'm not so concerned with the Eastern Conference, mostly because the Blackhawks are in the west, but also because the East is more top heavy than the West.  Boston and the New York Rangers are the teams to beat, with Philly and Pittsburgh (sans Cindy Crosbaby) not far behind.  In the Western Conference, however, the playoff bids are anyone's guess.  The top 6 teams are separated by 3 points, and LA is poised to make a push with the outstanding play of Jonathan Quick.  Four of those teams are in the Central, which makes it by far the best division in hockey.  The Red Wings, of course, are at the top despite their aging roster.  BTW, if you haven't tuned into a Hawks-Wings game this year, you really need to. They play beautiful hockey and each game has been decided by 1 goal, with two going to OT.  They Blues are using good goalie play (they rank #1 in goals against) and a reinvigorated style from new coach Ken Hitchcock.  Nashville continues to be the thorn in the Hawks side and win games despite having a roster full of castoffs.

I am fully confident that the Blackhawks can get to the playoffs.  They simply have too much talent to be kept out, and I can't imagine a team led by Jonathan Toews giving up as the season goes on.  A trade or 2 may help out, but are not 100% required.  Also, they can compete (and beat) any team in the Western Conference.  The Sharks and Canucks have no defense, the Wings play the same style with older players, and  the Blues and Kings are unproven.  Honestly, the Predators are the only team that scares me, as they have shown to be the only team that has found a way to shut Chicago down.  Let's just hope some other team takes care of the Preds before the Hawks have to.

As far as the Stanley Cup Finals go, I am going to stick with the Sharks to come out of the West.  I had a good feeling about them in the preseason, and they haven't really shown me a reason to give up on them.  In the East, though, I am going to switch the Pittsburgh Penguins (sorry Detroit fans).  Evgeni Malkin is playing out of his mind, Fleury is still a great goaltender, and this whole Crosby thing is probably some grand plan from Gary Bettman to have the captain lead the Penguins to the Cup.  I can also see the Red Wings winning it all in what should be Lidstrom's final season, as well as the Bruins returning to the final.

What are your predictions for the Stanley Cup Final?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

NHL All-Star Fantasy Mock Draft

As many of you know, NHL All-Star weekend is upon us.  I believe this is the best All-Star weekend in all of professional sports.  The game is never any good, because there is no hitting, which leads to tons of scoring. However, this plagues the all-star games in every major pro sport in America.  To make up for the boring gameplay, the NHL skills competition is a lot of fun to watch, with the fastest skater, precision shooting, and the fastest shot.  Last year, the NHL vastly improved the experience by adding a fantasy draft, which is pretty much like picking teams in a backyard game.  The NHL chooses captains, with one coming from the city that is hosting the game, as well as an assistant captain for each team.  There is then a back and forth draft, with some drama and possible hurt feelings.  The draft will take place on Thursday night (tune in to NBC SportsNet at 8pm EST). 

In preparation, my friend and fellow blogger Andrew Seid (The Seidline Report) decided to have our own All-Star Fantasy Draft.  We actually did two drafts.  In the first, we each took one of the captains from this year’s game, Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara.  We then drafted the teams exactly how we believe those captains would draft, which is not necessarily taking the best players first.  We then divided the rookies evenly, though they will only take part in the skills competition.   The second draft was a true fantasy draft, where we took the players we wanted, by choosing captains first, and then choosing from the pool of all-stars.

Before I share the results, here’s a quick word on the format of both of the drafts.  We used the rules from the 2011 fantasy draft, which we assume will be used again for this year’s game.    Teams consist of three goaltenders, six defensemen and twelve forwards. Although the draft rules do not dictate a strict order in which positions had to be filled, to guarantee the final picks are not constrained by having to satisfy roster composition rules, the teams' three goaltenders have to be chosen by the end of round 10, and all defensemen have to be chosen by the end of round 15.  This is shown below as red and blue blocks.  Also, neither draft was “snake” style, where the team that picked second got to pick first in the next round.  It was instead pure back and forth in order to honor the rules of the fantasy draft.

I am posting the results of the second draft, where we chose captains and then picked players.  I got to choose my captain and assistant captain first, but then took the rest of my picks second. 

Team Seid
Team Gregus
Pavel Datsyuk - DET F
Henrik Lundqvist - NYR G
 A. Captain
Steven Stamkos - TB F
Marian Hossa - CHI F
Jimmy Howard - DET G
Evgeni Malkin - PIT F
Henrik Sedin - VAN F
Patrick Kane - CHI F
Zdeno Chara - BOS D
Shea Weber - NASH D
Daniel Sedin - VAN F
Phil Kessel - TOR F
Tim Thomas - BOS G
Corey Perry - ANA F
Jonathan Quick - LA G
Brian Campbell - FLA D
Claude Giroux - PHI F
Marian Gaborik - NYR F
Kris Letang - PIT D
James Neal - PIT F
John Taveres - NYI F
Brian Elliot - STL G
Ryan Suter - NASH D
Carey Price - MON G
Keith Yandle - PHX D
Scott Hartnell - PHI F
Jerome Iginla - CAL F
Dan Girardi - NYR D
Kimmo Timonen - PHI D
Alex Edler - VAN D
Erik Karlsson - OTT D
Dennis Wideman - WAS D
(D-MEN) 15
Jason Spezza - OTT F
Dion Phaneuf - TOR D
Tyler Seguin - BOS F
Logan Couture - SJ F
Jordan Eberle - EDM F
Joffery Lupul - TOR F
Daniel Alfredsson - OTT F
Jamie Benn - DAL F
Jason Pominville - BUF F
Milan Michalek - OTT F

I actually really like how my team turned out.  Here are some thoughts on our mock draft.
  • Since Andrew and I think so much alike, he basically picked the guy I wanted right before, which made the non-snake draft just killer. You can also get a hint at our favorite teams-we each grabbed our respective organization's representatives in captaincy or the first 2 rounds.
  • I surprised him right off the bat by choosing Lundqvist as my captain, but he is having a fantastic season and has a great personality, plus I wanted a goalie right away.  I couldn't stay away from a Blackhawk, so I chose Hossa, who is having a much better year than Kane.  Had Jonathan Toews been available for the All-Star game, he would have been an easy choice as captain.
  • I did get Malkin, who is having an MVP-type year, and last year’s MVP, Corey Perry.  After that, my three favorite picks are James Neal, Scott Hartnell, and Logan Couture. 
  • Seid’s team has much more star power than I do, and justifiably bragged about an excellent young line in Tavares, Seguin, and Eberle, which I really wanted.   Giroux, Letang, and Quick are my favorite drafted picks from his team after that young line.
  • Some poor planning on my part caused me to have to take 4 straight defensemen before the 15th round per the rules.  While I had to take Dion Phaneuf, Andrew got to grab young Boston phenom Tyler Seguin. 

You can check out the other draft, where we picked based on what the captain’s would actually choose, on Andrew’s blog, The Seidline Report.  While you are there, check out some of his other posts.  This was quite a bit of fun to do, so lock for some more cross-blog activities in the future.  Make sure to tune into the draft to see how Andrew and I picked.